Monday, 7 February 2011

Egypt - What Is To Be Done - Part 4

The Popular Front & Idiot Anti-Imperialism

Some of those lessons I have already outlined. And yet, it is amazing how many socialists, who describe themselves as Marxists appear to have failed to understand those lessons.
Going back to the lesson that Marx and Engels learned back in 1848, and which Lenin developed in his “Two Tactics of Social-Democracy In The Democratic Revolution” that the working-class has to maintain its independence, and build its own organisations to fight for and defend its interests to go along with other class forces in action so far, and no further than the struggle for democracy is basic Marxism.
Yet, time and again that basic principle has been abandoned not just by the reformists, and Social Democrats but by those who claim to be revolutionary Marxists and Communists. In place of the principle of “extreme revolutionary opposition”, for example, in February 1917, it was not just the Mensheviks who supported the idea of joining a Provisional Government containing bourgeois Ministers. Stalin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev supported that position too.
In later years, this policy, which Lenin had described as “class treachery”, was codified by the Stalinists as the tactic of the Popular Front. In China in the 1920's, in Spain in the 1930's it led to the kinds of defeat that could have been predicted by Marx and Engels or Lenin, and which were predicted by Trotsky.

There were a number of reasons for the Stalinists adopting this strategy. In Spain, it was probably motivated in large part by Stalin's concern not to upset Imperialism, in order to avoid any risk of it undermining his attempt to build “Socialism In One Country”.
But, in part in Spain, and certainly in China, it was motivated by the same approach that he and the Mensheviks adopted in 1917, which was to focus on the immediate issue at the expense of the struggle for Socialism. This is the root of the approach of what the AWL describe as “idiot anti-imperialism”. By focussing on being “anti-imperialist” in China in the 1920's, Stalin forgot about the need to be “pro-Socialist”, and so subordinated that fundamental aspect of what a Marxist Party exists for, to the more limited goal.
It led him to bloc with the enemies of the working class, the enemies of Socialism. Instead of adopting the strategy set out by Marx and Engels of focussing on building up the independent organisation of the working-class and a struggle for its interests, and of Lenin in doing that whilst going along in action with other class forces for only part of the way, whilst continuing “extreme revolutionary opposition” to those alien class forces, Stalin instead repeated the mistake Marx had made in 1848 when he collapsed the Communist League in favour of working through the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Stalin subordinated the Communists in China to the fascist forces of Chiang Kai Shek's Kuomintang, even inviting the KMT into the Communist International.
Even after Chiang had turned on the Communists slaughtering thousands of them, Stalin failed to learn the lesson simply repeating the mistake by throwing in his lot with a different Chinese bourgeois general, only for the same mistake to not surprisingly lead to the same result. Having swung wildly to the other extreme in Germany in the 1930's, by not only refusing to bloc with bourgeois parties, but also to describe every other Party including the other Workers Parties as some kind of Fascist, Stalin was to return to the Popular Front strategy in Spain. There not content to leave the slaughtering of workers to the bourgeoisie, the Stalinists themselves did the job for them, in an attempt to placate their bourgeois allies!

It might have been imagined that with such graphic examples having been provided by history of the disastrous nature of blocking with alien class forces Marxists would have learned this lesson well. For their own reasons of attempting to placate Imperialism, the Stalinists continued to operate the Popular Front tactic, and in many cases to operate as policemen of the working class in the interests of Capital.
It became farcical as they attempted in issue after issue to hide their supposed commitment to Socialism in order to recruit every Bishop, and other bourgeois worthy to the specific cause. But, you would have expected that, at least amongst those Marxists who defined themselves as Trotskyists of some sort, and therefore by their hostility to Stalinism that these lessons would have been learned. But, it was a repetition of precisely this mistake in the early 1980's, which led to the development of the term “idiot anti-imperialists”. It arose in relation to the war between Argentina and Britain over the Falklands.
Prior to the outbreak of fighting there were no Marxists who supported the military regime of Galtieri, which was a brutal dictatorship oppressing the Argentinian workers. Yet, once the actual shooting started a whole swathe of Trotskyists responded with a knee-jerk reaction that it was necessary to defend Argentina against Imperialism, and to support Galtieri. Now, of course, there would have been circumstances where Marxists would have thrown their support in action behind Argentina. That would have been if Britain had launched an invasion of Argentina itself with the intention of overthrowing the regime. In fact, Trotsky himself describes the reasons why they would do that in relation to a theoretical invasion of a fascist Brazil by Britain. He writes,

“In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil.
I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slave-owners, and robbers!”

Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation

Quite so, but in the case of the Falklands War there was no question of Britain invading Argentina, and replacing Galtieri with some other fascist.
Its true that Britain's victory strengthened Thatcher, but that was a reason to oppose Britain – which all Marxists did – not to support Galtieri. In fact, the defeat of Galtieri did not, and could not lead to him being replaced by another fascist of Britain's choosing, and certainly not of Argentina being colonised, as in the case of Trotsky's example, but rather led to the weakening of Galtieri's regime, and its ultimate demise, which was of great benefit to the Argentinian workers!
But, even had Britain engaged in – what would probably have been – a suicidal invasion of Argentina - what form would the support for Argentina take? Trotsky gives the answer at the beginning of the interview where he writes,

“The policy of the “People’s Front,” as is shown by the example of Spain, France, and other countries, consists in subordinating the proletariat to the left-wing of the bourgeoisie.”

And he had already elaborated on that in his analysis of the Chinese Revolution. It was one thing he argued to support the KMT in action in fighting Japanese Imperialism, even to take the arms that the KMT had access to in order to join in that fighting, but only on the basis of maintaining the strictest separation of the Communists organisationally, political and ideologically from the KMT. In other words, to maintain the “extreme revolutionary opposition” in relation to them.

It was on this basis that the split in what was then the Workers Socialist League occurred in the 1980's with the Thornett Group on one side, and the old International Communist League on the other.
But, the Thornett group were not the only supposed Trotskyists to collapse into what was essentially the method of Popular Frontism. And that approach has been replicated in issue after issue amongst so called Trotskyists whether they trace their ancestry back to post-war orthodox Trotskyism, or to the anti-Trotsky Trotskyism of the Third Camp. It has been as much a feature of the politics of the groups that are descendants of the IMG, as it has been of the SWP. And the approach has been applied not just in relation to anti-imperialist struggles, but to issues here in Britain too. The worst example, has probably been the establishment by the SWP and others of the cross class Respect Party, which subordinated working-class politics not only to bourgeois politics, but to communalism and political-Islam, for the purpose merely of “Party building” by the SWP itself.
Like all such previous examples it ended with the socialists getting screwed – though at least in this case not in thousands of workers being massacred – and a further degradation of socialist politics in the eyes of workers.

Back To Part 3

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